Seasons of Arrogate: How do you measure a great?

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Ed DeRosa

March 28th, 2017

Jonathan Larson said you measure a year in love, but how do you measure great racehorses across the years?

Rent had midnight, laughter, and cups of coffee. Horse racing has figures, loudmouths, and Twitter.

But that’s the first step toward being talked about among the greats: Do something worthy of being talked about among the greats. Back in the 90s horses like Silver Charm and Skip Away were discussed, but their names have faded from most historical discussion.

And continuing to be a part of the narrative is the next step. Cigar, Easy Goer, Sunday Silence, and John Henry have achieved that status since the roaring 70s (and 1980) of Secretariat, Forego, Ruffian, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, and Spectacular Bid.

From this century, horses like Mineshaft and Game On Dude will eventually fade from our collective conscious while horses like Ghostzapper and California Chrome are likely to stay.

The current hot topic isn’t Cozmic One (we should be friends if you get that joke) but Arrogate, who extended his win streak to seven with a I-didn’t-believe-it-when-I-saw-it-but-wow Dubai World Cup win. After losing his career debut, Arrogate has won—in less than a year—a maiden race, two allowance, the Travers, the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the Pegasus World Cup, and the Dubai World Cup.

The question, “How do you rate Arrogate” has as many forms as answers. Do you rate him based on his brilliance and judge his talent based on whether he’d be able to defeat previous all-time greats? Do you rate him based on accomplishment?

It’s a hybrid answer for me with a slight lean toward actual talent shown on the racetrack, which is why I favor a horse like Ghostzapper over many others. Sure, Cigar built the better resume, but I saw enough of Ghostzapper to call him the better racehorse.

And we’re at that point with Arrogate, who despite having raced only 7 times in the span of less than a year has already surpassed every horse at least since Ghostzapper and maybe beyond.

Top 5 U.S.-based male horses since Ghostzapper’s last start (May 2005):

  1. Arrogate: see above
  2. American Pharoah: the Triple Crown weighs heavy, but so, too, does his Breeders’ Cup Classic win against the best that season had to offer sans Liam’s Map and Beholder.
  3. Invasor: These next three weren’t tough to list but were tough to rank. Invasor is probably one of the most underrated horses of my time; his wins in the Classic and World Cup were pure class.
  4. Curlin: What a wacky 2008 for the 2007 Horse of the Year. After conquering the world and weight, he tried turf and synthetic to no avail, but was an absolute monster when best and part of one of the greatest crops of all time.
  5. California Chrome: Was poised to have as good an older male season as we’ve seen since the aforementioned Curlin (and maybe even Ghostzapper or Mineshaft before that), but Arrogate “upset” the accomplished California-bred. Still, his five-year-old season stacks up well against any horse this century.

The rankings above are an example of balancing the “who would win” / who’s accomplished more question. The Triple Crown is the greatest thing you can accomplish in U.S. racing, but it’s not worth all the points. Arrogate’s speed and the races he’s won put him beyond the rest for me—even the Triple Crown winner.

However, that Triple Crown was enough for me to put American Pharoah ahead of the rest, though I think if they were all in a race together it’d be a good one and I’d probably just take the longest price (contrast that with if Arrogate were in the race and I’d bet him at 2-to-5—another sign he belongs on top).

The next frontier for Arrogate is either to keep winning or win a race a little out of his comfort zone. Ghostzapper is a Grade 1 winner at seven furlongs, one mile, and 1 1/4 miles with historic figures to go with each performance. Arrogate does not have the variety but does have the figures. If he wins out on dirt through the Breeders’ Cup he’s absolutely passed Ghostzapper, but I wouldn’t mind seeing him use that 1 1/4-mile acumen (and Juddmonte’s flair for the international) in the Arlington Million. A win there would elevate him to near Secretariat status.

(Benoit Photos)